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Lilo Lil puts bread on the table; TV's tart with a heart speaks candidly of love, life and the pursuit of happiness without men.

FIERY Irish actress Eileen Pollock shot to fame as a tart with a heart in the BBC's hit series Bread. But the 51-year-old red-head, who played Freddie Boswell's brassy bit on the side, today lives the life of a nun.

She has banished any thoughts of sharing her life or bed with a man and says her scorching reputation is a lot of hot air.

"I have given up on the notion of being in love or in a relationship," she said. "If is happens it happens, but it's something that I won't lose any sleep over.

"No-one knows what the future holds and if romance is waiting around the corner then I won't turn it away. But there is more to life than pining for a bit of romance.

"I didn't make a conscious decision not to have children - it just didn't happen.

"When I was 18 I had no knowledge that I was going to become an actor, but I did know that I wanted to travel the world.

"At that time I found it extraordinary that someone could commit themselves to one person for the rest of their life.

"I never really believed that it was possible because I knew that I could never compromise to the extent that was needed to make a relationship work.

"I'm probably a romantic at heart. I have had my fair share of relationships - some have lasted longer than others.

"I've also been through a few heartbreaks, but I still feel the same way as I did when I was 18 - that I have far too much to do in my life to commit myself to one person.

"I really don't think I can commit myself deeply enough for a relationship to work.

"I've never wanted children and I don't feel unfulfilled - in fact I have no regrets at all.

"But I realise that I am very lucky that I have such a great network of friends and family around me because I never feel lonely.

"I am quite happy to go to the cinema on my own and I find it very grown- up to be able to have a meal in a restaurant on my own.

"I don't feel that there is a gap in my life which needs to be filled by a man. If I meet someone and find myself getting on well with him then I'll consider that a bonus.

"But I am not looking around every corner for Mr Right. I don't feel diminished because I don't have a love interest. There are some people who feel unfulfilled unless they are in the middle of a relationship, but at the moment I just don't have the time for all of that."

Eileen was performing to audiences at the tender age of 10 when she started her own theatre company with children from her neighbourhood in a suburb of north Belfast.

SHE called her company the Scarlet Ribbon after a song Harry Belafonte had in the charts at the time.

"I was totally in love with him," she recalled. "So I thought it would be a brilliant name. I started to write plays when I was nine years old.

"The Scarlet Ribbon was a great song and I was totally in love with Harry Belafonte, so it was a perfect name. I painted the backdrop and we went around all the houses in the street and performed in our neighbours' front rooms.

"That was my first introduction to theatre. I didn't go to elocution lessons or anything like that, I just loved performing. But at that time I didn't have any inclination towards acting.

"My father was in the RUC and he was stationed in a little town in Armagh called Blackwatertown. We stayed there for a couple of years before moving back to Belfast.

"It is a family myth that I was a well behaved child. But I know I was a foul-tempered brat. I gave my mother a really bad time.

"My younger sister, Natalie, was much more sophisticated. She even got the lovely name while my parents fulfilled the family duty by calling me after my grandmother.

"I loved school, but my only regret was that I didn't apply myself properly to subjects like Maths and Science.

"I got the grades to go to university to study languages, but I was too young to go there until the following year.

"So I decided to take off to Spain for a year. It was probably the most exciting time of my life as well as the most lonely. I was so isolated from everything which I knew and it was terrifying.

"Ever since then I vowed that I'd never be alone again. But at the same time I was learning so much - it was a great adventure.

"I had a variety of jobs and the worst was being governess to six children, each one more spoiled than the other.

"They were all under eight years old and they made my life a living nightmare - in fact they probably put me off the notion of having children completely.

"It was a horrible time and I was so unhappy that I ended up getting sick. When I contracted hepatitis that was the last straw, and I decided to leave. It was the best decision I have ever made in my life.

When I went to Queen's University in Belfast, I joined the dramatic society, but even then it was just for a bit of fun I didn't take acting seriously at all.

"I was very childish during my first year at university. But I was also quite shy, so I didn't actively get involved with the drama society until my second year when someone left and I was asked to take over. I fell in love with acting there and then and it has never left me."

But it took another few years before Eileen became a full-time actor.

Ironically, bad advice from a careers teacher resulted in her first break.

"I asked the teacher if I could take up acting as a career and he said no. He suggested teaching, but I knew I couldn't do that - it just wasn't me.

"That teacher gave me no encouragement whatsoever and I ended up going to London to do a postgraduate course in technical translations.

"But moving to London turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me because the whole fringe theatre circuit was opening up and I was there at exactly the right time. But my acting career developed slowly. My first career move was joining the theatre company Belts and Braces and I stayed with them for five years.

"After that I was lucky enough to get a job with Fielday Theatre Company in the city which took me into the mainstream and increased my profile."

Eileen was an accomplished actress before she secured the role of Lilo Lil in Bread.

The feisty tart was hated by women and became a pin-up for men because of her incredible breasts, revealing outfits and her gritty determination to steal her man away from Ma Boswell.

Eileen then found fame in the Hollywood movie Far and Away, and appeared alongside heart-throb Tom Cruise and his wife Nicole Kidman.

She played the role of Molly Kay, a former prostitute who ran a brothel disguised as a lodging house.

In the film spectacular, Eileen dressed in bodices, corsets and seas of petticoats. But much of the shooting took place in the sweltering heat of Montana which made conditions unbearable at times.

But she admits her true love is the stage and she is currently touring Ireland in Marie Jones hilarious Women on the Verge of HRT.

"I feel as if I have truly come home every time I perform in the Royal Opera House in Belfast. I remember my parents taking me there as a child to see the pantomimes.

"When I go on stage I feel that I've finally made it - I'm performing for all those people out in the audience.

"But I also loved doing television. I owe a lot to Lilo Lil, there is lots of things I would never have been able to do if I had not been cast as her.

"People took her to their hearts and I have been able to do things like pantos because the audience loves watching performers who have been on television.

"Carla Lane produced a brilliant character in Lilo Lil and I was absolutely delighted to have been chosen.

"I was performing in a show in Liverpool at the time and decided to go along to the audition. The producers wanted her to be from Liverpool, but I convinced them that she should be Irish.

"The reason I said that was because I had been trying out my Liverpool accent on the taxi driver on the way to the audition and he asked me which part of Australia I came from. I thought then that I'd be better off sticking to what I knew.

"There have even been court cases in England where Lilo Lil has been named in disputes between employers and angry female staff who have taken exception to being compared to her. But I have always defended her. She only had one man in her life, okay he may have been married, but Freddie Boswell had two women and Ma had two men. Unfortunately she picked the wrong man.

"I was sad when the show ended because I had grown quite attached to Lil. But it had been developed as much as it could and if it had been stretched any further Bread would have become a soap opera which would have been awful.

"I don't have anything against soaps, but I think the characters in Bread would have lost their edge because the storylines would have become forced.

"The Hollywood movie role was also something I didn't plan for. I had heard they were casting in Dublin and I was performing in Belfast at the time and I had no idea how I'd be able to get down there because we rehearsed each night until 7pm.

"I got a taxi to take me to Dublin and it was such a beautiful evening that I actually forgot what I had travelled down there for.

"The taxi cost pounds 65 return and I saw the director Ron Howard at 11.30 that evening.

This was my first Hollywood movie role. I had been in other films like Mike Leigh's Four Days in July, but this was a completely different experience.

"It was all very elegant. I was kitted out in the most beautiful dresses. But my advice is - don't wear a bloody corset in Montana in midsummer.

"The brothel scenes were as complicated as only Hollywood could make them. The upstairs scenes were shot in Montana - but the downstairs scenes were done in Dublin.

"So you had this totally surreal situation where someone would shout out of a top storey window and someone in the street would reply 4,000 miles away.

"I have a lot of appreciation for actors like Tom Cruise. He had to learn how to box and the trainers could not believe how good he was.

"He totally lived the part. He makes it look as if it's very easy but, believe me, it's not.

"I suppose I prefer these type of movies for the money I make. But for real satisfaction it has to be the theatre. Nothing beats the feedback you get from an audience after a performance.

"With acting one job leads to another and when I was out of work I would create my own productions by forming a theatre company.

"Acting is totally part of my life now. My mother continued to send me advertisements from local newspapers in Ireland for teaching jobs

"It took about 16 years for my parents to take my career seriously. I appeared in a production in the Opera House in Belfast with James Ellis and we were interviewed by the local media. That meant that my mother could no longer keep up with the pretence that I was an interpreter. She had to admit that I was an actor.

"But because I was performing in the Opera House with someone like James Ellis she could accept it.

"I have never had a crisis of conscience about my career. But earlier this year, July 6 to be exact, I experienced a total nightmare.

"I was ready to go on stage in Dublin when I suddenly thought 'What the hell am I doing?' There must be something else I could do than put myself through this total misery.

"I was on the verge of tears and I don't know how I made it on stage. But I did somehow and I was fine then. But that experience taught me not to be too complacent about life.

"Every actor also goes through a period where they have to take another job to sustain themselves.

One of my favourite jobs was being a solicitor's clerk. It was fascinating. In fact that period of my life has given me the inspiration for writing a number of plays.

"My home is in London, but I try to get back to Ireland as often as possible. I also have a home in Belfast, which I share with my friend Carmel.

"But I would love to think that I'll be performing on stage until the end of my life."

l Eileen appears in Mother of All the Behans at The Garage in Monaghan on September 24, and the Riverside Theatre, Coleraine on September 25.
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Copyright 1998 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Doherty, Amanda
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Sep 20, 1998
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